May 17, 2018
Could this small New Hampshire bookshop become the (non-evil) Amazon.com of rare books?
by Susan Rella
The bad: Baldface Books in Dover, New Hampshire, is closing its brick-and-mortar store.
The good: Baldface Books is still going to be active as an online seller.
The very good: owner Clyde Allen firmly believes that focusing his efforts on online sales will allow him to procure and provide more hard-to-find books than he was able to do while juggling rent and operating costs.
Why does this matter? Well, it’s a pretty interesting sign of the times. This isn’t a bookstore folding — it’s a bookstore going virtual, in a world where one company really has the online book market cornered.
Thanks to Brian Early’s reporting earlier this week at Fosters.com, we learned that Allen was forced to stock his store with cheaper offerings (think $5–$6 remainder books), rather than $200+ rare books, which, let’s face it, are way cooler, and also offer a much better profit margin. In a physical location, space has to be given to stuff that sells — and that meant that Allen was storing roughly eighty percent of his inventory off-site. With the ability to focus on that more-lucrative-yet-less-in-demand rare-book sweet spot, Allen thinks his business can thrive, even without a storefront.
So as his lease with Flight Coffee—also his next-door neighbors—ended, Allen decided to pack up rather than find a new location. Baldface had been adjoining Flight Coffee since last June. The coffeehouse will be reclaiming the space, adding twenty-six seats and reopening by June 1st. They’ll also sell a limited number of books from Baldface on a dedicated bookshelf, and Allen will continue to update that selection regularly.
This was Baldface’s fourth space in its twenty-five-year history, which makes one wonder what the heck is going on with the Dover rental market. But it’s always nice to see booksellers not disappearing. With competition from an online behemoth that can sell titles like this, Allen definitely has his work cut out for him. Bon courage, sir!
Susan Rella is the managing editor at Melville House, and a former bookseller.